In the days before I arrived in Philadelphia, I asked each of the resident artists to teach me something from their practice—big or small, technical or not—during my ten-day stay. The lessons I received were generous and various, reflecting the diversity of practices within this group of artists. From Adam Manley’s lesson on the Shaper Origin, to Maiko Sugano’s introduction to using the chainsaw, each artist selected something that’s integral to their work in this moment, and each taught me something I hadn’t done before.
Adam’s introduction to the Shaper Origin captured my attention as an educator: a skilled and experienced teacher himself, Adam presented the tool as a bridge between the analog and digital that’s eminently accessible to students. Though the movements and depth of cut are programmed, the tool is handheld like a router. In his own practice Adam is using the Shaper Origin to create clean and customized interior packaging for art crates designed to hold the tools of art installation, a project that’s headed to the Houston Center for Craft which will illuminate the invisible labor integral to art and craft exhibition. Though its design makes possible a high degree of structural work, Adam taught me to use the Shaper for inlay. If students already have a degree of fluency with graphics programs, the tool’s design seems remarkably intuitive, and Adam expertly walked a few of us through tool settings and the step-by-step process of cutting both positive and negative for a surreptitious inlay of a walnut cactus, logo for CRAFT DESERT, a collaboration with Adam’s colleague Kerianne Quick. It’s woodworking as graffiti and I love it.
When I conjure chain saws I think forest management, perhaps limbing trees, reducing dead material on or near the forest floor, or at the extreme, taking a tree down. On one of my first days in the NextFab shop, I watched Maiko Sugano use a chain saw in a way that was nothing short of a revelation.
Maiko is transforming hulking rounds of oak into exquisitely carved bowls using first a chainsaw, then a chisel, and finally a small carving knife. I watched her slowly and carefully carve away at the underside of a bowl with a level of control and patience that invited me to think differently about the possibilities of the tool. A week later, when she was ready to give me my lesson, it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I saw she was ready to teach me to use the chainsaw. She talked me through the trunk’s layers, from pith to sapwood and bark, showing me the tools she’ll use to pare down to the portion right for her bowls. The very center is too hard, and the thick sapwood layer too soft and showing visible signs of rot after months on the ground. She started with a small axe and a maul, but it was quickly clear that the chainsaw was the right tool. Skillfully she moved through the round, steadying the motor against her thigh to support the weight, and quickly got to the portion that will become the second bowl in this series.
When I walked into the WARP area of the shop for my lesson with Teresa, she was in the throes of splitting a 10” diameter sycamore log that wasn’t in the mood to be split. But Teresa prevailed, ultimately pulling a piece from the log that one could imagine carving into a small spoon. Teresa walked me through a lesson about being attentive to grain when carving so that my spoon’s slender handle will be strong. From splitting the wood, to taking a chunk to the bandsaw to rough it out, to the different knives I can use in shaping and refining my spoon, to the ways I can hold the wood and use the knife safely, Teresa took me through it patiently, generous with her time, answering my many questions about carving. At the end I had a roughly carved spoon and a clear desire to do more.
Teresa Audet Laura Zelaya
Laura, inventor, problem-solver of small, analog machines, taught me a phrase that made my brain explode with delight: eccentric circles. We usually think about, learn about, study the geometry of concentric circles, two or more circles that, though they may have various radii, share a center. A dart board, a bullseye, the grooves on a vinyl record, all consist of concentric circles. But EC-centric circles do NOT share a common center point. In fact, the axle attached to the crank of Laura’s small stage sets might not travel through the center of a disc at all. If the axle travels through a wheel at a point that is not at the center, as the axel spins, whatever is traveling on that wheel—whether a figure or wave—will travel gently up and down, creating the hypnotic effect Laura’s machines have.
Terry’s workbench at NextFab is alluring in a particular kind of a way. The surface is often filled with treasure, a pile of scrap that might make one want to clean house, but in Terry’s hands is alive with promise, answering the persistent question of what do we do with the cutoffs, the leftovers, the scrap? I could have tried to convince him to just let me watch the compositional process for mesmerizing hours, but instead he walked me through his process of composing mandala-like radiating patterns from assemblages of scrap, working with some glue, some surfacing tools, and a dash of chance.
My lesson with Emma happened in the mezzanine at 1800 North American, her laptop open, mine at the ready. Emma moves easily between fabrication and digital design. In my own work I use software in 2D design, most often the Adobe Suite. When it comes to 3D design, I pull out scratch paper and then I work my way through pages of a drawing notebook before building a carboard or scrap wood maquette. In my lesson with Emma, she walked me through the logic of the AutoDesk suite of programs, from AutoCAD to Fusion and Revit, discussing what might draw me to one or the other. Her explanations were inviting, revealing the underlying logic of the program in a manner that makes diving into designing a table, rendering its dimensions, and moving it within the three-dimensional space afforded by the program, seem accessible and inviting.